what my scoliosis journey taught me about body image

what my scoliosis journey taught me about body image

I went through a life-altering surgery, but what really changed the most was the way I saw myself.

paris
paris
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We're all guilty of viewing ourselves under a microscope, so much closer than anyone else sees us. We find small flaws within ourselves and magnify them far beyond their true size, holding ourselves to impossible standards. This is how I saw my scoliosis. Even though my friends claimed that they couldn't tell, I couldn't get past the feeling that I was noticeably deformed. Over time, this thought began to intrude into my daily life. Clothes that I had once loved made their way to Goodwill piles because I no longer thought I could "get away with" wearing them. I avoided going to the beach and pool because I didn't want anyone to see me in a swimsuit. The worse my scoliosis became, the less confidence I had. Eventually, I got rid of all my crop tops and form-fitting outfits and exclusively wore oversized thrift store sweaters to hide my torso. I thought I would have to deal with scoliosis for the rest of my life, and I didn't see a way out of my insecurity. I made up my mind to live with it, but deep down I worried that I would never truly love my body with scoliosis.

Halfway through my junior year of high school, about five years after I was first diagnosed with scoliosis, my spinal curve had progressed to a severe 62 degrees (surgery is usually recommended for curves of 45 degrees and above). I decided that spinal fusion surgery was the best choice to eliminate pain and avoid future health problems. Though spinal fusion is not a cosmetic surgery, it obviously comes with the cosmetic benefit of a more "normal" looking body. Once the surgery was on the horizon, I couldn't help but dream of finally being happy with the way I looked.

The surgery was pretty painful and ugly, but I think I'll always remember the first time I looked in the mirror afterward. It was my second day in the hospital, and I gathered the strength to walk to the mirror with my IV pole in tow. I was so eager to see how I'd changed, and I was not disappointed. For the first time in as long as I could remember, I actually liked my body. I didn't stand there and pick out flaws or tear myself apart. That was an amazing feeling.

The truth is, I don't really know how drastically my physical appearance changed due to the surgery. What I do know for sure is that I feel happier in my body now, and it shows. I stand taller and wear clothes my own size. Friends and family compliment me and tell me I look much better now, but I honestly think it's because I feel much better now. I'm finally happy in my body, and my newfound confidence shines through from the inside out.

My scoliosis journey taught me so many life lessons, and here's what it taught me about beauty: It's not about how you look, it's about how you see. I went through a life-altering surgery, but what really changed the most was the way I saw myself. Though I will always have insecurities, I've learned to appreciate and be thankful for the body I have. Unconditional self-love is really difficult to achieve, and most of us will spend our whole lives working toward it. I don't know I'll ever get there, but at least I've taken a really big step in the right direction.

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An Open Letter To My Fears

Sorry to say, I'm not scared anymore.
Haley
Haley
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Hello. Yes, you. You know who you are, what you are, what you did. You know the everlasting grip you have on me, halting my breathing every time I approached you.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

From that day, you have always controlled me. All those times I missed out on outings, because I needed to avoid you. Every night's rest, halted from the nightmares you plagued on me. Every time my lungs collapsed and I couldn't breath due to the fear coursing through my veins.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

I remember that time I first noticed you, watching over my shoulder. I can still feel the chills crawling down my body, and I froze. Unaware and clueless at how to act. Can I get rid of you? Simply, close my eyes and wish you away. Will everything then get better? However, this was never a true possibility.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

Now, you are no longer an ever-fixed mark on my soul. I am free. I could never find the right words to say, the right actions to take to stop you from controlling me. I was stuck.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

I am grown up. I live in a world now where you are a luxury we cannot afford. We must be strong. In the past, I could hide in my you. Use you as an excuse to forget, to avoid, to close up. You were my evil crutch, supporting me every step of the way. Whether I wanted you to or not.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

I am strong. I can no longer depend on the fear to keep me from living. I must be free. You used to haunt my every memory. Stop the new ones from forming. Scare away those dear to me. You, tried to destroy me. And, you almost did.

I'm sorry to say, not anymore.

I am a warrior. I no longer fear because I do not need fear. You are not a crutch I require to walk, I can run on my own two feet. I can go through life without looking over my shoulder. I can go be myself without you casting a shadow over me. I can live.

You used to be all I knew.

Controlling everything.

You were everything.

But, I'm proud to say,

Not ANYMORE.

"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." -H. P. Lovecraft
Cover Image Credit: Pexels
Haley
Haley

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Please Know That Being Diagnosed With PCOS Is Not The Same As Living With It

I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2018, but it wasn't until months later that I realized what it’s actually like living with it everyday.

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In October 2017, tired of counting calories and never seeing the scale move, I decided to try the latest fad diet: Keto.

It worked.

I lost almost 40 pounds in half the time it had taken to lose 20. I had lost nearly 10 inches from waist and hips. I went from a size 18 to a size 12.

Getting into ketosis was hard, but once I was there, I felt incredible: better mental clarity and focus, astronomical amounts of energy, regular body functions. Don't get me wrong, this diet is hard. No carbs, no colorful vegetables, no pasta. The struggle was real. But what it was doing for my body was worth it.

Except for one little thing: my periods had lost their minds. I'm talking bleeding for three weeks straight, no break. Coming and going in particular pattern, sometimes twice a month. Side note: this is not normal. In the world of Keto, it's supposed to help exponentially with fertility and hormone balances; people use this diet as a way to reverse hormone imbalances, PCOS, and infertility. This was virtually unheard of in all of my support groups.

Months and months go by with no relief. My doctor can't figure out why everything is so wonky. She takes me off the pill and things get better - slightly. Any improvement at this point was a victory.

She finally gets my ultrasounds back and she says "Well that's a surprise!" Cue my questioning look of confusion. "Umm care to share?" "Your ovaries have the characteristic look of PCOS. But you don't have any of the usual symptoms. I'm guessing the Keto diet was helping in it's own way. I recommend staying on the diet, let nature re-regulate your natural hormones, and we will re-evaluate in a few months."

I was frustrated, but this was totally do-able. I had been living this lifestyle for months, so I didn't foresee it as an issue. But then my kidneys starting reacting to the diet, and that doctor recommended I come off it. Obviously I wasn't going to jeopardize my health, so I started a low carb version of the Mediterranean diet.

I went in fully expecting to gain some weight back, because I was reintroducing carbs when I had gone largely without them for over a year. I knew that this would happen, and I didn't let myself get discouraged when the scale started going forward.

What I did not expect was to have my PCOS start running lose with my entire life and sanity.

Don't get me wrong — my periods were normal again, but everything else went AWOL. My hormones were going up and down of their own volition, we are talking sobbing hysterically over a butterfly commercial one minute and then fuming with anger over a car ad the next.

I started experiencing pelvic pain that feels like cramps only not all the time and without rhyme or reason.

My hair became uncontrollably oily to the point where I had to wash it everyday like clockwork; it started to thin and fall out.

I also started getting darker hair everywhere. I'm naturally an incredibly fair-skinned person so having black hair anywhere stands out like a sore thumb.

I felt like I wasn't in control of anything going on with my body. I felt like a hairy, unattractive monster. Everything that made me feel attractive and desirable was slowly being taken away from me piece by piece.

I had been living with PCOS for nearly six months, but I hadn't realized what it was like to actually live with it. I thought it was just irregular periods, but it is so much more than just a weird period.

I went back to the doctor, and she explained to me again how PCOS works, and how she didn't think traditional treatment options were the best thing for me. "Go back on the Keto diet. You were having incredible success with managing your symptoms. Go back to that."

Going back has not been easy. When I first started Keto, it wasn't easy, but I got into it quickly. I've been trying since January 12th to get back into it, and it hasn't worked.

I'm now in a place where I need to do it — for my health, for my sanity, for my self-esteem — and I physically can't. I do exactly everything the same as before, and it's not working. I'm trying to move away from the mentality of doing it for weight loss, and move toward positive thinking about how it's what's best for my body and my health.

My PCOS has forced me to have militant control over everything I eat. I can't simply enjoy food anymore. Everything that I chose to eat directly relates back to my PCOS and what that particular food can do for me. I think about everything that I put into my body, and the potential it has for either healing my body or harming it.

I see a piece of cake and I smell it, and picture in my mind what it tastes like. But I know that if I eat that piece of cake, I will bloat, get a stomach ache, and have to start back from square one the next day.

I cut out the carbs. I say no to cake. No potatoes. No pasta. I eat only green vegetables. I drink coffee that has nothing but heavy cream. I try to do intermittent fasting for 15 hours a day.

And I hope that it works. I hope that today will be the day I can get my life back on track. That today will be the day Keto works its magic.

I hope.

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